Three at Four

 

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“I don’t want to drive back to the house, I want to walk.”  Emilio stood in the driveway with his hands at his sides, declaring his four-year-old determination. Adrienne and Matt were going back to our house for a mid-afternoon rest from the busy cottage we rented on Jenness Pond last week for a big family vacation. Emilio wanted to go with his parents, but he was “sick of the long car ride” (3.3 miles, about 5 minutes) between the two houses. He wanted to walk.

 

“It’s really far, Bud,” Matt said.  “Do you really want to walk that far?”

“Yes.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes!”

“Okay,” I said.  “I’ll walk with you.”  We went in to the cottage to let everyone know where we were going.  There were lots of questions.  “Emilio is walking back to the house?”  “Do you have a phone with you?”  “Has he ever walked that far?”

David looked at Emilio’s feet.  “Do you have some shoes with you?  Sneakers?  Some socks?”

“No,” Emilio said.  “I’m wearing Crocs.”  As if everyone takes the longest walk of their life so far in Crocs and of couse no one wears socks with Crocs.

Emilio took my hand and we started off with me telling Emilio about the walk across England David and I did three years ago.  When I’d finished the story he asked if we were close to the house yet.  “I’d have to tell about 20 more stories like that before we got to the house,” I said.

“Well, then tell me another story.”

Which I did.  Then he told some stories, we stopped to look at the map on my phone so he could see where we were and where we were going, we walked through a rain shower that was mostly blocked by the canopy of trees above the road, he kept holding my hand and stepped off the road every time a car went by, we found a dead frog and poked at it with a stick, we walked up and down hills and looked at the other ponds we passed, we picked Queen Anne’s lace for him to give Adrienne when we got back to the house.  Once, more than half way, he stopped and said his feet were tired and he needed to rest.  About five seconds later, he started to walk again.

An hour and a half later, we reached the house.  Over three miles by a four year old.  As we walked in to the yard Emilio looked up at me.

“Was that a good walk for you, Mimi?”

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A Beginning

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The rain on the porch roof makes a new sound.  We’ve had gutters installed and now instead of a curtain of drops dripping off the edge of the porch there’s a metallic ping and rush of water flowing down the drain in the corner.  The view out to the yard is clear, coreopsis still blooming, silver-sheened balls of globe thistle getting ready to pop out their tiny purple flowers, uneven and unruly grass, rudbeckia blazing yellow in clumps from the garden to the line of yew bushes, the burn pile for this fall getting lost in the tall weeds and wildflowers of the field.  Summer.

Which this week means a house filling up with children and grandchildren and friends. Sam arrived after we’d all gone to bed last night and we woke up to an assortment of Tennessee hats arranged on a counter in the kitchen.  There are dog food bowls and leashes and a crate lined with blankets and a chair full of dog toys.  Extra shoes and wallets and car keys, laptops on every table.  A stuffed refrigerator that will empty and get stuffed again and empty and get stuffed again and empty and get stuffed and empty.

But I don’t want to go there yet, to the empty.  Right now we’re at the beginning of a week of family gathering and everything is full and messy and rich.  Empty is later.

Becoming and Being

Chris Sitting On Her Memorial Bench
Chris Sitting On Her Memorial Bench

My sister, who I’ve introduced before through her blog, A Cancer Journey With Chris, is very sick. She hasn’t put up a new post on her blog since April because living with metastatic cancer has become more than a full-time job for her, it’s 24/7, it’s exhausting, it’s the central, all-encompassing reality for her and for those of us who love her, it’s at the point that her illness is a globe of existence we move into when we’re with her because when you’re with someone this close to the end of life, someone trying to make sense of the hard truth that soon the mystery of time is going to become a closed absolute, everything except figuring out the next meal and a trip to the doctor and helping her up and down the stairs and into the bathroom and rubbing her back while she cries drops away.  I know.  I’ve been here before.

In Chris’s last blog post she shared a piece she’d written in a journaling class — “Pay attention to the space you are in but stay open to all the possibilities to come.  It is the small things that matter.  It is the becoming that becomes the being.  Always becoming.  Pay attention to the process; that is who you are.”

The cancer in Chris’s central nervous system is creating pressure on her brain that makes her cognition fluctuate but she’s still working hard at paying attention to the process. Sometimes she can keep track of what’s going on and then she’s sad, because she understands that she may very well have come to the end of her extraordinary span of beating the odds.  Twenty four years ago, when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer, her doctors said she had a 10% chance of living five more years.  Two and a half years ago, when the cancer was found in the lining of her spinal column and her brain, her doctors told her to make her final plans.  Soon.

She spent a few months planning her memorial service, talking to her family about what was coming, writing letters to those she loves for them to read after she dies, writing an essay to be read at her service, having a memorial bench installed on the beach in Scituate, Massachusetts where we grew up.  Done getting ready to die, she then spent two years living with a close attention to what brought her joy — family and friends, colors, bright blossoms, the ocean, writing, meditation, movies, qigong.  She was becoming and being. She sat on her bench

I’ve been spending a lot of time with her and am in awe of her remarkable spirit and the full life she’s created in the face of debilitating illness.  Who knows how much time she has left.  I do know that I want to spend as much of that time with her as possible.